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Some Tips For Avoiding Email Disasters

  1. Don't spam.

    I don't care how much money you can make from it. The rest of us want to murder you. If you spam, I hope someone does. Get a real job and be productive instead of being a leech.
  2. Don't use "spammy" subject lines.

    Most emails with subject lines containing words and phrases such as "bargain", "deal", "offer", "ultra-low prices", "low, low rates", etc., are spam or scams. If you use these kinds of subject lines for your emails, people (or their spam filters) will probably delete your email unread.
  3. Limit use of "Re: " in subject lines.

    About 90% of all the emails sent these days have a subject line starting with "Re: ". This is very tiresome! It is almost always better to think-up a new subject line instead. Save "Re: " for those rare occasions when your email actually is in response to the subject indicated.
  4. The "Subject" should be the subject!

    I never cease to be amazed at the fact that many people's email subject lines bare no resemblence to the actual subject of the email. Come on, folks, the "Subject" line should be your actual subject! I should think that would be obvious, but aparently not. For example, if your email is about your plans to travel to France next weekend, a good subject line might be "Weekend France travel plans". Brief, pithy, and very descriptive of the actual content of the email. Examples of bad subject lines for such an email would include "stuff", "[no subject]", "I was thinking...", "red ale", "trip", or "Complete corregium of details regarding our proposed journey to the beautiful nation of France on the upcoming weekend". The first four are obviously wrong. The fifth comes close, but is too vague. The last is way too long. A good rule of thumb is, a subject line should give your reader a good idea of what the email is about, in 5 words or less.
  5. Don't type in ALL CAPS.

    IF YOU TYPE WITH YOUR CAPS-LOCK BUTTON ACTIVATED, YOUR FELLOW INTERNET USERS WILL CONSIDER YOU TO BE YELLING!!! DON'T DO IT! IT'S NOT POLITE TO YELL IN PUB... Oops. Sorry. As I was saying, it's not polite to yell in public.
  6. Don't mis-direct email.

    For example, don't accidentally put your wife's email address in the "To: " line of an email to your mistress. Such blunders have ended marriages, destroyed careers, resulted in the impeachment of elected officials, and have probably caused a few suicides.
  7. Don't be obscure.

    Most email users don't have the time to try to decipher cute witticisms, obscure metaphors, puzzling references, quaint sarcasms, big words, scientific jargon terms in Latin or Greek, or other baffling, cryptic remarks. Write simply and clearly.
  8. Don't flame.

    If you have just written an angry letter to someone, don't push the "send" button just yet. First, go to lunch, drink an iced tea, and cool off. Then come back to your computer and push the "delete" button instead. This prevents starting a flame war which could go on for weeks, with each side calling the other "@$$#%^&!!!", and getting called even worse things in response.
  9. Don't lie.

    If you lie to people, they will eventually find out that you are lying, and then they will think -- and rightly so -- that you are a liar. Is it worth it? No. So tell the truth. That way, you can build a reputation on the internet as a truth-teller, and you can always deal from a position of ethical strength.
  10. Don't let the cat out of the bag.

    It's very easy to tell a secret, but very hard to untell the secret once it's told! This especially applies to:
    • Credit card numbers
    • Computer passwords
    • Anything regarding sex, love, religion, or politics
    This is very important because of the ease of forwarding email. Tell a secret to one person, and you may have just told the entire world!
  11. Make the content suitable to the recipient.

    Different tunes play well or ill to different audiences. It's best to spend a moment thinking about your intended reader before writing an email. What kinds of things might your reader enjoy? What kinds of things may offend your reader? If you honestly don't know, then it's usually best to avoid mentioning anything having to do with sex, love, religion, or politics. Stick to "safe" topics, such as business, the weather, politically-correct humor, etc. Only when you get to know your reader better should you risk more outré or risqué subjects.
  12. Be discreet when sending or receiving personal email at work.

    Consider the kinds of comments that can occur in personal email:
    • "...I'm overworked and underpaid around here..."
    • "...my boss is a stupid old fart..."
    • "...I stayed over at Martha's last night; don't tell my wife...."
    • "...by the way, I'm a lesbian..."
    • "...I'm using a forged green card..."
    • "...I had to change my name because of my warrants..."
    • "...I hope no one here finds out I have AIDS..."
    It could be very embarrassing if your boss or coworkers were to stumble across such tidbits! The safest approach is to completely refrain from sending or receiving personal email at work. But if you just can't resist checking your inbox, reading your mail, and shooting off a few replies during your lunch break, then it's best to restrict the content of your email to "safe" comments. Save any "risky" content for when you get home!
  13. Keep work email professional.

    Your boss is probably reading all your incoming and outgoing email, especially outgoing. Yes, believe it or not, bosses do that. Why? To ensure that trade secrets remain secret, and to ensure that employees treat customers politely. So keep all your work email polite, friendly, on-topic, and professional. Spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, clarity, style, tone, politeness, discreteness, brevity, and on-topic-ness are all very important. This goes both for email to customers, and email to co-workers. If you can't keep your work email professional, then don't use email at work. Failure to obey this rule will probably get you fired.
  14. Proof-read email before sending it.

    Otherwaise< its vary eesy to sind an errror=riddled messaje whish loocks raelly dorkey. peopl well wondr hou u evor maed it pasd therd grade, and wether yor drunk ore on drugs,`
  15. When in doubt... don't!

    If you're not sure whether or not to send a particular email, then don't send it! People receive too much trash email as it is without you adding further garbage to their inboxes. While it is always easy to delay sending an email, and then change your mind and decide to send it at a later time, it is usually not possible to unsend an email. Once you push that "Send" button, it is usually irrevocable. (One exception is email sent from one member to another within AOL. Such emails can be "un-sent", provided that the recipient hasn't read them yet. This is one of the few endearing qualities AOL has.)

So ends my list of things not to do when writing email. I strongly recommend to all email users that they try to obey these rules. I've learned most of these the hard way, by doing the opposite and having it backfire on me, with painful consequences. Hopefully, the above tips can save you from learning the hard way, as I did.


Written in 1996 by Robbie Hatley.

Last updated Sunday April 22, 2007.

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